Chapter 04: A Child with Cancer

Title

Chapter 04: A Child with Cancer

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Description

In this chapter, Dr. Hicks talks about the turbulent period that ensued after his son, Graham was diagnosed with kidney cancer at 8 months of age. He describes his experience as a parent, the lessons learned, and the impact that experience has had on his own work with patients.

Identifier

HicksM_01_20180417_C04

Publication Date

4-17-2018

City

Houston, Texas

Topics Covered

The Interview Subject's Story - Personal Background; Cancer and Disease; Personal Background; Inspirations to Practice Science/Medicine; Influences from People and Life Experiences

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.

Disciplines

History of Science, Technology, and Medicine | Oncology | Oral History

Transcript

T. A. Rosolowski, PhD:

Now the anecdote you told a couple seconds ago, you know touched on the issue of cancer. When did cancer start to be in the picture for you?

Marshall Hicks, MD:

I think it was much later. Actually, after all my training --I was at Washington University, it was part of our practice there but it wasn’t a big part until when I was later there. It was actually somebody else that was doing more of it, in interventional radiology than me. I wasn’t particularly interested in it, but I had also had—our son had been diagnosed with kidney cancer in, I guess it was 1994. He was born in October of ’93, so it was May, ’94, and we started to develop more of the practice of oncology in the mid to later ‘90s. I think I was—you know, because he was under treatment, and had surgery and all that stuff, I was—we were fortunate as a family, to not have cancer in either one of my parents’ families, so it was not something I had dealt with personally until our son had it. And it turns your world upside down. Hopefully you haven’t experienced it, but as you, as you—

T. A. Rosolowski, PhD:

From being here I’ve known, yeah.

Marshall Hicks, MD:

Just your life is never the same. I remember driving home, I used to listen to NPR and Terry Gross interviews and she had Stephen King on there, and he was talking about his novel, Pet Cemetery. I had the interview once, I can’t find it any more, but it was maybe about two weeks before our son was diagnosed. In Pet Cemetery there’s a place at the very beginning where the child is playing with a ball and the ball goes into the street and there’s a big semi coming, and the ball is rolling and the kid is starting to chase it and you just—it’s a horrific sort of scene, it ends up the child doesn’t get hit but everybody is wondering if that’s going to happen. He said he wrote the book, he wrote that part, because he said it’s like everyone has this part of them that wants to know what it’s like to look through the window or open the door into the other side of hell basically. What hell is like, and that would be hell for people, for a kid to be—to lose a kid. I remember thinking that’s exactly what happened when our son was diagnosed because you don’t know what’s going to happen and it’s just, your life turns upside down and you see everybody else going home at the end of the day and you’re there in the hospital with your child, looking out and wondering if your life ever is going to be normal again. We were married a year when he was born, so we were a newlywed couple dealing with that.

T. A. Rosolowski, PhD:

How old was your son when he was diagnosed?

Marshall Hicks, MD:

He was eight months old.

T. A. Rosolowski, PhD:

Oh my word. Oh, how painful.

Marshall Hicks, MD:

Fortunately, he ended up having a Wilms, which was one that 20 years ago was not a success story, but because of all the Wilms trials … So I got to know the story of clinical trials in oncology and the successes that that had. He had bilateral involvement, one side was tumor, one side was sort of precursors to tumors, and so we had to figure out how to treat that, preserve the kidney and all this with it, and so it was complicated. Fortunately, he had great doctors and made it through that. We moved here when he was about four and a half or five, so he was under surveillance at that time and was doing well.

T. A. Rosolowski, PhD:

What’s your son’s name?

Marshall Hicks, MD:

Graham, G-R-A-H-A-M.

T. A. Rosolowski, PhD:

And your wife’s name?

Marshall Hicks, MD:

Kelly, with a Y.

T. A. Rosolowski, PhD:

And your son is doing okay?

Marshall Hicks, MD:

Yeah, he’s in flight school right now, he’s 24.

T. A. Rosolowski, PhD:

Wow.

Marshall Hicks, MD:

He graduated from Texas A & M and then enrolled in a flight school over here. He is a pilot, he wants to be a commercial pilot.

T. A. Rosolowski, PhD:

Well I’m glad that that story had a happy ending.

Marshall Hicks, MD:

Yeah, it had a happy ending. One of the things I learned from that, too is that you’d be in the hospital having a problem, whatever it was, and you’re in the hospital and you’re feeling sorry for yourself and then you look around and you always see somebody worse off. It’s just one of those lessons where you realize you’ve just got to take it day by day. You can’t feel sorry for yourself and you’ve got to just keep pushing on. He was always the inspiration. One day he was in the ICU, septic and swollen up, and I took some balloons, and I think I’d been on call and went over and got some balloons, so my wife could go home, and he had this big smile seeing all these balloons, even at that age. He was probably almost a year at that point, and it makes you realize how resilient the kids are with what they go through. If he’s going to be doing that, I’m not going to sit here and feel sorry for myself or feel like this should be an easy road. It taught me a lot. I think it taught my wife and I a lot about ourselves and about resiliency and experience with cancer and the hardship people go through and how it affects their lives.

T. A. Rosolowski, PhD:

Do you think you think differently about patients here at MD Anderson because of that?

Marshall Hicks, MD:

I feel like --not having experienced it personally, but I feel like having a child go through it and those feelings, there’s no question in my mind that it helps me truly empathize with people who are dealing with those decisions and uncertainties, and the anxiety around the scans for follow-up. No matter how well you’re doing clinically, there’s always that “is this going to show something.” So from an imaging standpoint, it’s helped me be able to convey the anxiety around that from the average radiologist doing the procedures and dealing with the patients and the uncertainty when we’re doing biopsies or procedures, and try to help them. It’s helped me be more confident in relating to them and being able to assure them: we’re going to take it one step at a time; we’re going to try to get the information that’s going to really help you get on the right treatment. That’s why you’re here. Let’s think positive, just you know, the next step is getting this information, understand it. It’s a journey and we’re to help you every step of the way. I didn’t realize it at the time, because there was so much that was going on with him and the treatment. Even when we moved down here, the surveillance was frequently enough and you know, you’re always wondering. One day there was a time when I was over at Alkek doing procedures and he had had a scan here at Children’s. I got a call that he had lung mets, lung metastases. Fortunately, there was a friend of mine that worked over there that had been at Wash U with me, and I called him up and I said, “Can you just take another look at these things and make sure?” Sure enough, it was old, they were old, it was nothing new, but I remember that day. My life again was turned upside down because it’s like oh, this is not good. You make it through the first course and then the odds are pretty good. The second time, it can still be salvaged there, but it’s just … The poor little guy, having to go through all this stuff again and your life just goes 180 in one direction and then flips back,. It’s that emotional rollercoaster and you realize that’s what our patients go through so much. So yeah, every one of those experiences just give you the ability to understand it and to be authentic in a lot of ways.

Chapter 04: A Child with Cancer

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